Imagine being a young widow with 8 children, living in a 6 by 8 foot tent, pitched in the mud. Imagine your last food ration coming 6 months ago and having no idea how or when your children will receive their next meal. Imagine not being able to go back to the remnants of your previous life because the tensions and hostility that led to the destruction of your family 3 years ago are still very present today. Imagine wondering day in and day out how and when this nightmare will end. Sadly, it is this very situation that our ‘Da Mission’ team encountered in western Kenya last year.
In July of 2009, our Kenyan liaison Walter led our team to a "transit camp" in Western Kenya. Transit camps are intended to be temporary "housing" to internally displaced people, people who are essentially refugees in their own country. When the team arrived at the camp, they saw tattered tents plotted on a hillside on the outskirts of a rural village. In this small muddy settlement, over 100 families lived in torn tents and tarps. The team learned that there was another camp on the other side of town consisting of an estimated 500 families (some families having more than 10 members in one tent). As the team went from tent to tent visiting with the people, their hearts grew heavy as they learned the stories of these precious individuals. They learned how each family had come to live in this particular camp, enduring such dehumanizing living conditions. They witnessed firsthand the multifaceted tragedies of life in a transit camp.
Every family living here was in this camp as a result of Kenya’s 2007-2008 post-election violence. Nearly everyone in the camp has lost family members, friends, homes, livelihoods, heritage, and personal dignity. With nothing left the people had no choice but to flee, in hopes of finding refuge. Later, in the government’s attempt to persuade residents to return to their homes, this particular camp was shut down, forcing many to resettle in makeshift homeless camps. Tragically, these camps have no access to food, adequate shelter, healthcare, sanitation, or any form of government aid.
Last July, during the team’s brief visit to the camp, they did what they could to meet a few of the basic needs that the government had promised, but failed, to meet. The team was able to provide food, blankets, soap, and tents for the families suffering the worst degradation, with the most urgent need. Since then, our Kenyan and Ugandan liaisons have continued making trips to this region in order to provide some of the supplies and services so desperately needed by the people. To this day, at least 50 families have been able to leave the camp and return to their homes or to the homes of nearby relatives.
This past weekend (July 2-4), our East Africa immersion team, along with our local liaisons and a group of Kenyan youth volunteers, all arrived in Kenya ready to serve! Gregg Garner, Derek Bargatze, Skylar Aaseby and the East African immersion team facilitated a youth Bible conference focused on reconciliation. Youth from 12 different tribes attended this conference, and came together to serve the displaced people and to participate in the restorative activity of God. As the group helped meet more of the physical and psychological needs of the families still living in the camp, a coalition was also formed to help aid in the long term phase out of the camp. By the end of the conference, two more families were able to move out of the camp into newly built homes. It is a powerful sign to the world when even those in need can join together and help meet the needs of their neighbors. It is this kind of love that will usher in the kingdom of God and bring about the peace and reconciliation all of humanity longs for.
By Alyssa Kurtz